Move isn't only element of a transitional period Veteran Browns players are replaced by youth


November 10, 1995|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

The 1990s will be a pivotal time for the Cleveland Browns franchise, especially since the team has decided to relocate in Baltimore.

The Browns suffered their worst season in franchise history in 1990, finishing 3-13. Browns coach Bud Carson didn't make it through his second full season, being replaced by interim head coach Jim Shofner on Nov. 5.

Three months later, Browns owner Art Modell named Bill Belichick as his new coach.

"The Browns were in a tough position then," said Belichick. "They had a lot of older players who had been to the playoffs and a few good young ones, but not the core of veterans that are so important to championship teams.

"I knew it would take about five years to rebuild this program," said Belichick, who grew up in Annapolis.

The Browns moved into a new training facility in Berea, Ohio, in August 1991, but the beginning of the Belichick era wasn't so successful. The Browns finished 6-10 in 1991, losing the final three games of the season.

Cleveland had a similar losing streak at the end of 1992 season to finish 7-9, and the Browns were 7-9 again in 1993.

Belichick was unpopular among fans during those years. He released or failed to re-sign some of the city's most popular players such as Webster Slaughter, Kevin Mack, Clay Matthews, Frank Minnifield and Bernie Kosar.

But the Browns replaced them with a solid nucleus of young players such as running back Leroy Hoard, safety Eric Turner and offensive guard/tackle Herman Arvie, and then brought in veteran players such as linebackers Carl Banks (1994) and Pepper Johnson (1993).

The combination seemed to work for the Browns in 1994. Cleveland earned a playoff berth for the first time in the 1990s, going 11-5. The Browns beat the New England Patriots, 20-13, in a wild-card game at sold-out Cleveland Stadium. The Browns faced the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers for the first time in the playoffs, but lost 29-9 at Three Rivers Stadium, their third loss to Pittsburgh in 1994. The Browns had six players go to the Pro Bowl.

Another great season was expected from Cleveland in 1995, especially with the addition of wide receiver Andre Rison, but so far the Browns (4-5) are struggling. They have tried two quarterbacks, first Vinny Testaverde and now rookie Eric Zeier.

"No consistency yet," said Belichick. "We need to find that rhythm like a year ago."

The Browns' timing was set off further on Monday, when Modell announced that he was moving the Browns to Baltimore.

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